Hopes for the Symphony fading

The Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra is on its deathbed.

After mediation talks quickly broke down last week, the CSSO and representatives from the musicians' union were in bankruptcy court last Thursday to determine the fate of musicians' contract.

In a surprise move, the musicians' union withdrew their objection to breaking the contract and Judge Donald E. Cordova of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado in Denver quickly ruled that the CSSO and the musicians no longer had any obligation to one another.

Since Jan. 6, the CSSO and the musicians have been feuding over alleged cash shortfalls that ultimately led the organization to miss payroll and file for bankruptcy (a full story on the breakup of the symphony ran in the Feb. 2 Independent and can be reviewed online at www.csindy.com). When the CSSO filed bankruptcy, the organization also asked the judge to reject the musicians' current contract, which was set to expire in August. Instead, the symphony wanted the musicians to accept a Jan. 12 proposal that included a major salary cut that would compensate them on a pay per performance basis.

However, last Thursday, musicians indicated they were relieved to be free of their obligation to the board and management team of the CSSO in which they had issued a vote of "no confidence" last fall. In court, CSSO representatives and their attorney Ron Martin appeared to be caught off guard. and indicated they hoped the court would force the musicians to accept the January proposal.

In a transcript of the proceedings, Judge Cordova explained that the CSSO had asked for the court to break their current contract. Once the musicians withdrew their objection, he had simply granted the CSSO's request and didn't believe he had the authority to impose an agreement. "You file a motion to reject, they don't oppose it, it's over," said Cordova.

When Martin insisted that the court did have the authority to impose a "fair and equitable" agreement, Cordova replied: "So, what you're saying is you're at liberty to reject the collective bargaining agreement, but you feel that you can then require them to accept another proposal, and I don't."

Ron Martin insisted that the court does, in fact, have the authority to impose a contract, but Cordova said that the agreement had to be mutual and the following discussion ensued:

The Court: Yeah. But, you know, the only way you're going to resolve this, gentlemen, is you've got to mediate this.

Mr. Martin: We have been, Your Honor.

The Court: I know. But you're at an impasse, and I don't know anything about the symphony, and I know very little about musicians, except what I've read. I've been told they're underpaid and unappreciated. It isn't a bias, I mean, it's just something that I read.

Mr. Martin: Right.

The Court: And you combine that with no money on the other side, and you have a situation that is sad for everybody. But, I don't think that you can force the symphony musicians to accept a contract that they do not want.

Mr. Martin: I'm clear that we can't force them to play.

The Court: Well, yeah, I mean, and even if you submit a proposal, let's say you come up with what you think is a wonderful collective bargaining agreement that you're happy with, if they're not happy with it, if they don't want to take it, are you suggesting that I have the authority to order them to accept that?

Alan Isaacson, spokesman for the musicians' union was elated. "We took the opponent's force and used it against them," he said. "[The CSSO] wanted a shotgun wedding, but this is the United States, not North Korea."

Isaacson said he could not discuss why the federal mediations had broken down because all parties had agreed to complete confidentiality.

Larry Barrett, executive director of the CSSO issued a statement on Friday that said: "The Symphony has repeatedly and tirelessly sought a new agreement with the musicians' Union. The Union has rejected all four Symphony offers without receiving one substantive offer in return ... With little cash in the bank at this time, the Symphony options are limited."

Isaacson declined to detail the musicians' plans, but indicated they are exploring all options.

The day after the hearing, Judge Cordova died suddenly from an apparent heart attack. Though the events were unrelated, Cordova's death could affect the ruling if another judge decides to hear an appeal.

--Noel Black


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